Asheville QB Trey Hillier is on pace for shattering his school mark of 2,570 passing yards that he set in 2017 as a sophomore. He has already passed for 1,198 yards in four games, averaging 300 thanks to his 387 against Hendersonville (HHS) in week three.
Erwin’s first two WMAC contests are again, against the only two teams that finished ahead in the conference in 2017. ACR was unbeaten, while it was the only WMAC team to defeat Asheville last year.
Less-heralded players stepped up for Asheville and Reynolds Friday, diversifying their attacks. Lindsay had 93 receiving yards. Half (three of six) of his catches went for touchdowns, with two of those in the decisive second quarter.
Asheville looks for others to step up to compliment Famous Pasley at receiver, after the injury Friday of WNC leading receiver Tre’Von Robinson. He ruptured his kidney on an early hit, played on, but it turned out he sustained internal bleeding, according to coaching and other sources. He is expected to miss the rest of his senior season and playoffs.
Even ahead of this season and that injury, AHS head coach David Burdette was looking to deploy two-tight end sets. He is apt to do that more. It worked wonders last weekend, when the Cougars scored just before halftime to put the game away in Skyland. Vasili Paulk, a sophomore tight end, was in along with main tight end Marvin Pearson, a bulky senior. This turned into the crowning play thus far of Paulk’s young varsity career.
Both were the main targets of what turned into a long gain, to set up a score. QB Hillier “told me and Marvin he was going to try to find us on the next play,” Paulk said. He ran downfield and across, turning back toward the line “looking for the ball,” he said. “I saw it coming straight towards me.”
Once he snatched the ball near midfield, Paulk had the jump on the defender and said adrenalin kicked in. He was “thinking ‘score!’ I turned, and ran quickly down the field. I kept running.” He dashed for half of the field after the catch, reaching the Ram five yard line. Paulk who is half-Greek, ran as determined as if charging up the rocky Acropolis to the ancient Parthenon or carrying a torch up Mt. Olympus. He said it “felt great” making the long gain. That set up Justin Campbell’s three-yard TD run.
Campbell is a running back, who can line up in the slot. Others apt to get more receiving time in Tre’Von’s absence include Krishon Williams, Jaihlen Harper, Daron Bowden, Delano Briggs and Ben Warren.
Hillier passed for 201 of his 235 yards and both scoring passes in the first half. Those were the first two Cougar TDs. The first went to Tre’Von Robinson. Next was a 60-yard bomb to Pasley. Hillier was accurate. He completed two-thirds (13 of 20) of his passes, starting with his first five.
AHS head coach David Burdette is pleased his “explosive” offense scored on five of its seven first-half drives. The biggest advance for Asheville is resuming its Mac Attack on the ground, with Tristen McAfee back after missing the loss at HHS due to injury. McAfee was as fast and strong-running as ever at TCR. Number one had TD runs of 18 and six yards, and rushed for 85 yards. Vyshonne Franklin ran for the last AHS score.
The defense sacked star Roberson QB Ty Gossett four times, kept him out of rhythm, and forced several three-and-outs. Gossett bruised his throwing shoulder a week earlier. By Friday injury-bitten TCR was without its leading receiver, Kobe Miles.
Roberson’s biggest play was in the first quarter. A.J. Baxter caught a short pass alone, sprinted 80 yards down the right side, but was caught after he slowed when hoisting the ball up as he prematurely celebrated what he thought was a TD. Coach Jason Dinwiddie’s Rams still scored, on Gossett’s five-yard pass to Devin Credle. The PAT made it 8-7. After that, it was all Asheville.
Meanwhile, Reynolds gave notice that though it graduated many stars from a team that reached the 3AA title game, it returns much firepower and remains the WMAC frontrunner. Head coach Shane Laws told his Rockets in the post-victory huddle that “we made plays, when we needed to.” He called the decisive triumph a “loud and clear” message the WMAC’s big dog still has its chops. But he cautioned the conference race “ain’t over yet.”
Laws told The Tribune “you don’t win games like this without big plays,” and ACR made many of them.
Star linebacker Eli Hembree said “we knew we had to bring it all, to get the win” over Erwin. Flinn said “Erwin’s a good team,” a worthy challenge. Bell said the team delivered “our best.”
Coach Laws pointed to the comeback 17-14 win over Shelby, as a good character builder and “big test” for another deep playoff run. ACR was shut out until the final quarter, trailing 7-0, but its defense hounded the fast Golden Lions into several fumbles.
Reynolds seized the lead at 10-7, on a freak play. Shelby’s punter got the snap at his own three yard line, and shockingly dashed to his left instead of punting. He was hit by Bell, the ball came loose, then Reynolds’ Tacoma Jones scooped it and went in. The home crowd went wild.
The teams traded TDs, with ACR retaking the lead on a marquee scoring play by Markeese Jackson. He took Flinn’s pass, promptly evaded three tacklers, then sprinted free. Shelby missed the tying field goal, in the waning seconds.
Erwin head coach Rodney Pruett said his Warriors will “regroup” after falling to Reynolds. He said there was some “bickering” on EHS sidelines as ACR pulled further ahead, but that his team settled in to work together and click better on offense. “I’m proud our kids didn’t quit.”
The series has had high-scoring contests over the last decade. In 2016, ACR stormed from 21 points down to prevail 49-48 in overtime. This time, Reynolds burst open a close game for a three-TD lead at halftime at 35-14. Second-half scoring was much closer (21-12). Erwin scored on runs by QB Kendrick Weaver and Don Mosley. The first-half Warrior TDs were on passes from Weaver to swift Simeon Thompson. But only six of Weaver’s 130 passing yards were in the second half, when he was continually pressured and periodically sacked.
Pruett credited ACR’s offensive game plan of passing to such unsung targets as Lindsay to ease double coverage on its usual main targets Jhari Patterson and senior runner-receiver I’dre Bell. Flinn went to those two more as the game progressed.
Flinn “threaded the needle” with pinpoint passing, and also ran well at critical times, Pruett said. Flinn, in turn, lauded Erwin’s defense as a puzzle. They mixed zone and man coverage. Also, he said, “They’d bring only three, and drop back” into coverage. Flinn patiently looked for the most open receiver, and solved that puzzle. He praised blocking for time to pass, receivers’ sure hands, rushing to balance the offense, and ACR’s tenacious defense.